The United Riders of South Los Angeles had just left the memorial site for Benjamin Torres, killed last October in Gardena in a hit-and-run, when they were pulled over by the Gardena Police Department.
They had stopped at the site to replace Torres’ original ghost bike, which had recently been removed by the city. They wanted the site to be ready to host this month’s memorial ride.
After securing the bike, they had headed toward city hall to inquire about its confiscation and about the possibility of working with the city so that the memorial could be allowed to stand. That’s when a female officer passed them, swung around and got behind them, and then finally pulled them over, claiming they were impeding traffic.
Actually, according to John Jones III, president of the East Side Riders, she didn’t tell them why she had pulled them over at first.
They asked, but were told to sit down and turn around.
The more they asked the more frustrated she got, putting her hand on her service weapon, blaming what she perceived as their noncompliance for delaying the process, and, finally, calling for back-up.
When the other officers arrived, they frisked the cyclists — including the petite Rese Chaidez, Torres’ step-daughter — and ran their IDs.
Jones began protesting the fact that the female officer was running her hands up between the legs of the male cyclists, but thought better of it. He was used to this kind of thing and knew calling it out would only escalate the tension, he said.
Instead, he and the others continued to ask why they were being stopped.
The officers finally settled on the idea that the group must have been impeding traffic. They told the cyclists they needed to stay off the sidewalk and ride three feet from the curb. They were not interested in hearing about concerns that staying so close to curbs and cars would put the cyclists in danger of being sideswiped by cars or in the door zone of the parked cars they were passing.
Incidentally, Jones and Javier Partida, head of Los Ryderz, had completed a road safety certification course no more than 10 days ago. So, aside from their years of experience on bikes and of very competently and responsibly marshaling the weekly rides that their clubs take, they actually now had newly-minted certificates that verified they knew the rules of the road.
None of it mattered to the Gardena PD, who were busy handing out tickets to the group.
Jones demanded to know why the ticket was being written by one of the officers that had been called in as back-up and therefore had not witnessed him impeding traffic. When she couldn’t give him an answer, he asked that she note on the ticket that she had not been present for the incident, but she mumbled that she was just writing up the ticket for the other officer and that they would sign it.
That officer, however, appeared to be doing what she could to conceal her identity. Repeated requests for her badge number and business card were rebuffed multiple times.
She wasn’t thrilled that they were asking and voiced that she felt it meant that the cyclists were going to complain.
“No,” says Jones. “We were not going to complain. We were going to tell the truth.”
Tickets in hand — except for Chaidez, who oddly wasn’t ticketed — they headed for city hall. Now they had two issues to talk about.
The main concern, Jones said, was still the ghost bike.
Why would the city take something like that away without notifying the family? Their contact information had been plastered all over the site.
The Chief of Police said that they got a lot of complaints from residents and so he had made the decision to remove it. They normally don’t let memorials stay up that long as it is, he said, and this one had been there for many months.
When the group told him they had just put the ghost bike back at the site, the Chief agreed to work with them to try to find a happy medium, suggesting they go the route of getting a permit for a memorial or plaque of some sort.
Satisfied that they could work with the Chief, they headed for home.
At that point, says Jones, they know the ghost bike was still there. Within three hours, however, it was gone again.
That was the last straw for the group, said Jones. They had felt the Chief was willing to work with them and they could respect someone trying to help them by bringing them into the process. But for the bike to have been removed so quickly made them feel like they were being had. And they had had enough.
So, they put the video out and they want your help spreading it far and wide. All of the riders here have worked tirelessly on behalf of the community. Even the youth have been active in making a positive contribution to South L.A. and in doing what they can to become better citizens and people. Ironically, Fernando Mejia (the short youth in the white t-shirt) told me just last week that he wanted to be a cop.
“You’d be great!” I’d said at the time, thinking of all the articles I’d written on profiling of youth and how slow that culture was to change within law enforcement. “We really need cops around here that treat the people right.’